Broomhall Nursery School, Sheffield, UK

Case Studies of Makerspaces in Kindergartens / Nurseries and Schools


Broomhall Nursery School is an inner-city nursery that caters for children aged 3 and 4. The MakEY project was undertaken just before Christmas in 2017, and focused on the topic of ‘Light and Colour’.

The project involved University of Sheffield researchers Dr Liz Chesworth, Professor Jackie Marsh and Beth Nutbrown, working alongside Annie Beech, an artist who worked for the community arts organisation ‘Ignite Imaginations’.

The aims of the project were to enable children to explore the concepts of light and colour through the provision of a pop-up makerspace.

The project began with a presentation to the governors by Jackie, in which they were enthused by the proposed project and outlined the nursery’s commitment to it. The headteacher, Diane Hetherington, then spent time with the nursery staff, exploring what a makerspace was, and how it related to early years practice.

The staff took part in a training day offered by the research team, in which they had an opportunity to explore the concept of makerspaces, play and experiment with a range of materials and create a range of artefacts themselves. The staff also planned the MakEY project activities with the research team.

Prior to the project starting, the children were introduced to circuits by Diane’s husband, who created a range of resources that enabled the children to experiment with making bulbs light up (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

When the University and Ignite Imaginations team began the project, they found that children already understood a great deal about electricity, and circuits, because of this prior work.

The MakEY project began with the children creating light boxes. They were given small cardboard boxes that had an acetate top, and placed within it pieces of differently coloured cellophane paper. The children then made torches using a battery pack, batteries, LEDs, and decorated it with washi tape. The torches were then placed inside the light box, and the children took them inside a black-out tent (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Child with a light box inside the blackout tent

Using the app PABLO on a smartphone, which is so simple to use that the 3-year olds used it independently once initially shown how to use it, the children created lightshows (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: A still of a lightshow created with the app PABLO

The children then used a HP Sprocket printer to print off their lightshows as stickers, which they proudly wore. The nursery staff felt that still images from the lightshows could be used as the Christmas calendars for parents (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: PABLO-inspired Christmas calendars

The children also experimented with other ways of using light and colour to be playful and creative. An overhead projector was used to project colours and light onto the wall, and a tablet with the iMotion app enabled children to create short animated films of the lights and colours moving across the wall.

Work on squishy circuits, which enables the use of Play-doh to create 3D models that light up, was faciltated, and Christmas themes were popular (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Squishy Circuits

The children were also able to create pictures using paper circuits. These were drawings that contained copper tape, linked to LEDs, which enabled children to create pictures that lit up (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Drawings with circuits

Celebrations at the end of the week enabled children to show their films to all of the nursery, and the lightboxes were taken into Santa’s grotto! (See Figure 7).

Figure 7: Santa’s Grotto

Diane, the headteacher, felt that the project had been very successful. She commented:

“I think what was really, really good was that the children absolutely loved it. You know from day one actually making light boxes, making the circuit, putting it in a box and then going into a dark den…So I think immediately it captured the children’s interest and imagination because it was so different, and I think the connection between making a light box and then making a little light show with the Pablo app was just fantastic. So, you know children were hooked…I think all of it was lovely because individual children got a lot out of it, whatever they were involved in. So children that were making pictures that lit up, that was their kind of ‘wow’ moment wasn’t it, to actually draw a picture and then be able to make it light up, that was brilliant. The children who did the conductive Play Doh, lighting that up, were very, very keen to take it home and make it. And some of the children, in terms of their concentration, their perseverance, it was just really, really wonderful. So I think there were lots of successes.”

Over the course of the maker activities, Diane had observed much learning occurring, which she noted (see Figure 8). Overall, the work had been highly successful, with the project leading to a range of positive outcomes for both the children and the staff.

Figure 8: Learning through the MakEY Project

MaKEY Project at Broomhall Nursery School
4-8th December 2017

Activities Some of the learning I have seen demonstrated this week Comments/Case studies of specific children Follow up
Monday Making small light boxes  – boxes, acetate,  bulbs, battery packs, batteries, crocodile clips, coloured cellophane


Can talk about some of the things they have observed such as plants, animals, natural and found objects.

• Talks about why things happen and how things work

Looks closely at similarities, differences, patterns and change.

Seeks to acquire basic skills in turning on and operating equipment.

Knows how to operate simple equipment.

• Shows an interest in technological toys with knobs or pulleys, or real objects.

• Shows skill in making toys work by pressing parts or lifting flaps to achieve effects such as sound, movements or new images.

• Knows that information can be retrieved from computers.

• Completes a simple program on a computer.

• Interacts with age-appropriate computer software. (KW)

Responds to simple instructions, e.g. to get or put away an object.

• Beginning to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.

• Responds to instructions involving a two-part sequence. Learns new words very rapidly and is able to use them in communicating.

Uses simple sentences

Beginning to use more complex sentences to link thoughts (e.g. using and, because).

• Can retell a simple past event in correct order (e.g.  I went into the dark tent and made light film’

Extends vocabulary, especially by grouping and naming, exploring the meaning and sounds of new words.


Beginning to use three fingers (tripod grip) to hold writing tools.

• Imitates drawing simple shapes such as circles and lines. Holds pencil between thumb and two fingers, no longer using whole-hand grasp.

Uses simple tools to effect changes to materials.

• Handles tools, objects, construction and malleable materials safely and with increasing control.

(PD) • Experiments with blocks, colours and marks. • Realises tools can be used for a purpose.

• Understands that different media can be combined to create new effects.

• Manipulates materials to achieve a planned effect.

• Constructs with a purpose in mind, using a variety of materials

• Uses simple tools and techniques competently and appropriately.

• Selects appropriate resources and adapts work where necessary.

• Selects tools and techniques needed to shape, assemble and join materials they are using.

• Create simple representations of events, people and objects.


• Can select and use activities and resources with help.

• Welcomes and values praise for what they have done.

• Enjoys responsibility of carrying out small tasks.

• Is more outgoing towards unfamiliar people and more confident in new social situations. • Shows confidence in asking adults for help.

• Confident to speak to others about own needs, wants, interests and opinions. Children are confident to try new activities, and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help. • Begins to accept the needs of others and can take turns and share resources, sometimes with support from others.

• Can usually tolerate delay when needs are not immediately met, and understands wishes may not always be met.

• Seeks out others to share experiences.

• Initiates conversations, attends to and takes account of what others say.

• Explains own knowledge and understanding,

(PSED) • Sometimes gives meaning to marks as they draw and paint.

• Gives meaning to marks they make as they draw, write and paint. (W)


Also the characteristics of Early Learning I have witnessed this week

Having a go

Finding out and exploring

Being involved and concentrating


Having their own ideas

Being resilient

Problem solving

Enjoying achieving what they set out to do

Making links

Choosing ways to do things




H invited me into the dark den to see his light box and insisted the the zipped door be closed all the way because he “wanted the dark”

H told the children at group time about his light box; that the cellophane made it red for a fire engine and yellow for a police car. H has always been quiet and has used little language up until this point so I was thrilled with his confidence.

When mum came at the end of the day H was keen to show her what he had made so we went into the dark room with his light box and again he told mum about the different colours and what they signified. Mum said he talks to his Grandfather about lights and circuits. We showed mum the Pablo App and the short GIF moving image – mum immediately downloaded the app and said she would use it at home with him and the Glowstix he has got from a birthday party at the weekend.

See Friday
Making a light show -Taking light boxes into dark den and making little GIF lightshow clips with Pablo App Instant gratification – cause and effect We decided to use the light box idea to take stills and GIFs for each child and to print the stills for calendars this year as each one would be unique and children with SEND could participate.
Stills of light show made into stickers with mini printer   The children loved these and stuck them onto their light boxes.

It was an HP Sprocket which works wirelessly with a phone or iPAd. The stickers however cost about 50p each and the printer costs about £120.

Making short movies with objects on the OHP using the iMotion App K made a short film and was disappointed that the first one was so fast it was over in a flash so stayed to make another one Children tended to lose interest after about 10 shots and this only created a very short image but is something that a small group might be able to work on and add to thus making a collaborative  film maybe? To watch at group time with popcorn as a cimema experience. We could also show the images/movie in the entrance hall
  Children wearing BodyCams to record themselves at the activity   Interesting to see a child’s eye view of the world
Tuesday Making decorations – Conductive play dough, non- conductive play dough, shape cutters, LEDs, battery packs, batteries   The non- conductive element does not have to be play dough and would stop the cross contamination. It could be a straw, a lollipop stick, even a rolled up piece of paper.
  Children wearing BodyCams to record themselves at the activity   Interesting to see a child’s eye view of the world
Wednesday Making light up drawings-Copper tape circuits. LEDs, battery packs, batteries, paper and pens


Making light up drawings -LED strips on acetate under drawings    
  Children wearing BodyCams to record themselves at the activity   Interesting to see a child’s eye view of the world
Thursday Making torches – LEDs, battery packs, batteries, washi tape Much more inclusive

More children able to participate

Less adult intensive

Children more skilful at putting batteries

  Taking torches into the  dark den and making little GIF lightshow clips with Pablo App   Children loved this! Short but simple; instant gratification
  Making short movies with objects on the OHP using the iMotion App    
  Children wearing BodyCams to record themselves at the activity Interesting to see a child’s eye view of the world
Friday Large communal light up drawings – LED strips on acetate, bulbs, batteries and circuits, copper tape and LEDs H came in, took me to the window and said you have got snowballs outside and then went to the MaKEY table, sat down and said “What are we making today?” Children made more light boxes with circuits and made a disco in the whiteboard room with torches and danced to music
  Watching iMotion movies/GIF clips on interactive whiteboard – Cinema with popcorn Children were making ‘Oos and Aahs’ as they saw the short images/movie clips Jackie will collate these images into a correct format for better viewing
  Children wearing BodyCams to record themselves at the activity   Interesting to see a child’s eye view of the world